NEW DELHI: Hungary qualified for its third straight European Championship after an own-goal in stoppage time in a game marred by violent clashes outside an empty stadium in Bulgaria on Thursday.
Bulgarian fans threw makeshift bombs, stones and plastic bottles at the police, who responded with a water cannon after trash cans were set on fire in the capital of Sofia.
More than 20 fans and five policemen were injured, emergency service medics said. Four of the fans were admitted to hospitals with serious injuries. Some 40 people were detained and police seized a large amount of pyrotechnics, signal pistols, boxes, metal pipes and other items prohibited in mass gatherings.
Thousands of Bulgarian supporters were protesting the management of the Bulgarian football federation, which they blame for the national team’s poor results. Fans were made more upset with the decision to play the match against Hungary in an empty stadium.
The Bulgarian national team hasn’t qualified for a major tournament in nearly two decades. It was coming off humiliating losses to Albania in a friendly and to Lithuania in qualifying, prompting fans to call for a nationwide protest and demand for the resignation of officials.
Bulgaria looked set to earn its first qualifying victory until defender Alex Petkov headed the ball in his own net seven minutes into stoppage time in the 2-2 draw. The point gave Hungary what it needed to secure its spot at Euro 2024.
Martin Adám put Hungary ahead in the 10th minute before the hosts rallied with goals by Spas Delev in the 24th and Kiril Despodov off a penalty kick in the 79th.
Both teams finished the match with 10 men after Bulgaria’s Valentin Antov was sent off with a second yellow card in the 37th and Hungary’s Milos Kerkez saw his second yellow in the 57th.
The result left Hungary two points ahead of Serbia after seven matches in Group G. Third-place Montenegro had eight points ahead of its home game against Lithuania later Thursday. Serbia will also secure its spot in next year’s tournament if Montenegro fails to beat already-eliminated Lithuania.
Slovakia secured second place in Group J with a convincing 4-2 win against Iceland at home with a pair of goals by Lukas Haraslin.
A draw would have been enough for Slovakia, which will also be playing in its third straight European Championship.
Portugal lead the group with 27 points after nine wins. Third-place Luxembourg defeated Bosnia and Herzegovina 4-1 and will be in the playoffs. Gerson Rodrigues scored twice for Luxembourg.
Scotland also had already qualified. It picked up the draw at Georgia with a goal from substitute Lawrence Shankland three minutes into second-half stoppage time.
Scotland’s Lawrence Shankland celebrates after scoring his side’s second goal during the Euro 2024 group A qualifying match between Georgia and Scotland at the Boris Paichadze National Stadium in Tbilisi, Georgia.
Scott McTominay scored the other Scotland goal in the 49th. Khvicha Kvaratskhelia put the hosts on the board in the 15th and 57th minutes.
Georgia stayed in fourth place, two points behind Norway, which defeated the Faroe Islands 2-0 in a friendly. Erling Haaland was a second-half substitute and didn’t score.
Austria opened a two-point lead over Belgium in Group F by beating last-place Estonia 2-0. Konrad Laimer and Philipp Lienhart scored first-half goals for the Austrians, who have played a game more than Belgium.
Both Belgium and Austria had already qualified for Euro 2024.
Third-place Sweden lost 3-0 at fourth-place Azerbaijan, which played a man down from the 57th minute because of a straight red card to Bahlul Mustafazade. Captain Emin Makhmudov scored a goal in each half for the hosts. Agencies